Choosing to request a copy of the documentary The Sorrow and the Pity to review was a case of feeling I should watch the film rather than me wanting to watch it. The title for starters doesn’t suggest you’re in for an easy night in front of the TV. Then you’ve got the length. At a little over four hours, it’s a hefty slab of documentary and not easy to get through in one go (I watched it over 3 nights, but only because I was far too tired to concentrate the first night – 2 would have been fine and the film is split in 2 parts to accommodate this). Nonetheless, I’d heard it often called one of the greatest documentaries ever made so, being a fan of the genre, I felt I ought to have seen the film, so I semi-reluctantly asked for a copy.
What also didn’t help my low level of enthusiasm was that I thought the film was about the Holocaust, which doesn’t make for easy viewing and is a subject that has been well covered elsewhere (particularly in the even lengthier Shoah). However, I was misinformed (or rather hadn’t read into it properly). The film is about France during WWII, so the Holocaust does feature and much time is spent on the subject of the Nazi’s anti-semitism. The core subject matter however, is the examination of Germany’s occupation of France between 1940 and 1944. Once I realised this was the case (shortly before finally putting the film on), I became less reluctant to watch it. A lot of films and documentaries have covered WWII and various aspects of the war over the decades that followed. However, other than Casablanca and the TV series ‘Allo ‘Allo, which are hardly documentaries or even ‘based on true events’ for that matter, I’ve personally never seen the occupation covered in much detail on film.
The Sorrow and the Pity certainly makes up for that. Not only is the running time extensive, the volume of information and pace at which it is delivered is rather dense. As such, it demands your full attention and isn’t an easy watch. Director Marcel Ophüls interviews a huge range of people, from important heads of branches of the Resistance and Liberation movements, to German aristocrats, to simple folk living in amongst the turmoil. Few stones are left unturned and it makes for an incredibly rich and fascinating watch.
Ophüls’ questions are often very probing too. He wasn’t afraid to dig into the important issues and the darker sides of what was going on, even though the events were only 20-odd years in the past at the time of filming. The film is not a triumphant celebration of the strong will of the French people in gaining their freedom either. We hear much about how the arrival of the Nazis brought out racist attitudes some Frenchmen had previously hidden away. A large portion of the country were swept up in the Nazi propaganda too and due to the Germans seemingly improving life in the country in a few ways, they had more supporters than you’d imagine. Due to this unvarnished image of the French people, The Sorrow and the Pity was banned from French television until 1981.
Away from the subject matter, the film’s presentation isn’t anything to shout home about, at least in terms of cinematography. The interviews are fairly rough and ready, shot on black and white film. Much of the running time is made up of archive material though and there’s a wealth of this on display. Ophüls uses it very effectively too and not without some black humour. For instance there’s an amusing period advert for spray on tights – a money saver for glamorous ladies in tough times. There’s an ironic montage too that has a jaunty song about loving “the smell of France” whilst we see shots of Frenchmen doing Heil Hitler salutes. The interviews often take place in cleverly chosen locations too, framing them against the then present day state of affairs. For instance, a Brit is interviewed inside a bomber and at the end of the interview we pull out to reveal the plane is now part of a museum exhibit.
So The Sorrow and the Pity ended up being far from the slow, dull and depressing watch I expected. It’s an incredibly rich and detailed study of a troubled and complex period of history. It’s dense, long and tough to take in all at once, but it’s fascinating, brave and powerful, so absolutely worth the effort. I’m certainly glad I decided to take the plunge after being initially so hesitant.
The Sorrow and the Pity is out now on Blu-Ray and DVD in the UK, released by Arrow Academy. I saw the DVD version and the picture and sound quality was decent enough, although it’s hard to tell when a lot of the footage on screen is archive material of varying quality.
There are a handful of special features included too. Here’s the list:
– Interview with director Marcel Ophuls, filmed in 2004
– Le Nouveau Vendredi: The Sorrow and the Pity, a 55-minute debate that followed the film’s belated 1981 French television premiere, in which Ophuls and historians Henri Amouroux and Alain Guérin discuss the film and the issues that it raises with an audience of students from Clermont-Ferrand
– Reversible sleeve featuring new and original artwork
– FIRST PRESSING ONLY: Booklet featuring writing on the film by Pauline Kael and Jean-Pierre Melville, plus extensive historical context.
It isn’t a huge amount of supplementary material, but it’s of a high standard and perfectly complements the film. The interview with Ophuls is surprisingly entertaining too as he’s a sharp and witty speaker.]]>
Many of the posters for Christopher Nolan’s war-rescue picture Dunkirk have been of the super-wide banner variety. Here is a classic vertical design (and nothing gives a vertical impression than a sailboat) that emphasizes the scope and chaos through depth of field rather than panorama. There are a lot of elements and things to see here, shadows of air planes, fishermen working frantically, soldiers drowning in the water, or floating on objects. The fire offers a few flashes of colour in an otherwise desaturated ‘grim seas’ palette. It is also noteworthy that the IMAX specialty releases of films tend to be a bit more adventurous with their poster designs, probably because they are not distributed as widely.]]>
If Peter Berg’s Patriot’s Day wasn’t your thing, and you are yearning for a less ‘rah-rah-rah’ story about the Boston Marathon bombing, well, I am not entirely sure you will get that with David Gordon Green’s survivor story, Stronger. While it focuses less on ‘finding those responsible’ and more on ‘dealing with the trauma’ of these incidents, it is definitely swinging for the fences in terms of Oscar-bait kind of performances. Nothing wrong with that when you have Jake Gyllenhaal doing the heavy lifting. Gyllenhaal has proven over the past decade that he one of the best American actors working today, whether it be in a weird arthouse thriller like Denis Villeneuve’s Enemy or Dan Gilroy’s Nightcrawler, or in mainstream Hollywood adult movies such as Denis Villeneuve’s Prisoner, or Jean-Marc Vallée’s Demolition.
Jeff, a 27-year-old, working-class Boston man who was at the marathon to try and win back his ex-girlfriend Erin. While waiting for her at the finish line the blast occurs, and he loses both his legs. After regaining consciousness in the hospital, his battle has just begun as he tackles months of physical and emotional rehabilitation with the unwavering support of Erin and his family.
Keaton is back as an aging super combat hero now under the employ of the government(?) to train new recruits into covert agents/assassins. Basically this is just an excuse to make another Bourne/John Wick clone but ultimately I have no problem with that as long as it looks good and the cast is interesting – which it is here. I can’t say I know much about Dylan O’Brien as I never watched The Maze Runner series, but he does look interesting here. Throw in Keaton and Kitsch and whole slew of reasonably fresh faces along with a boatload of Tom Clancy-esque action and you’ve got my attention; and money.
Have a look at the trailer below and tell us what you think. American Assassin opens in the U.S. along with back to school daze. See you there. At the theater that is, not school. This is a new kind of school.
As always, please join the conversation by leaving your own thoughts in the comment section below and again, thanks for listening!
We’re now available on Google Play!
Opening: 0:00 – 4:05
Watch List: 4:07 – 23:32
Fargo (s1): 23:35 – 1:03:41
Top Five: 1:03:42 – 1:49:42
Guillermo del Toto Exhibit: 1:49:43 – 1:54:54
Outro/Next Week: 1:54:56 – 2:01:58
Closing Music: 1:58:46 – 2:02:47
– Bad Boys II
– A Fistful of Dollars
– Table 19
– “Fargo” (s1)
5. Personal Shopper
4. The Sense of an Ending
3. LA 92
5. Alien: Covenant
4. Your Name
3. Bad Batch
Stolen from Police Story
Andrew ranks Michael Bay
So what exactly has the ATC crew been consuming over the last few weeks? Movies. A lot of movies.
Colleen wasn’t able to join us this week but Dale (Letterboxd) and I (Letterboxd) managed to sit down to talk about some of the stuff that’s been keeping us amused over the last few weeks.
We can also be contacted via email – email@example.com!
Opening Music: Brian Reitzell’s “Main Theme“
– The End of the Lonely Island
– A Life in Waves
– Two Documentaries Introduce Delia Derbyshire, the Pioneer in Electronic Music
– The Fascinating Story of How Delia Derbyshire Created the Original Doctor Who Theme
– Alien: Covenant
– Everything, Everything
– Blackcoat’s Daughter
– Wonder Woman
– Tokyo Godfathers
– Cleo from 5 to 7
– Chunking Express
– “I Love Dick”
– “American Gods”
– The Apartment
– Unearthly Stranger
– Justice League Dark
– The Great Wall
– It Happened One Night
– Beauty and the Beast
– The Boss Baby
– The Shack
– John Wick Chapter 2
– The More the Merrier
– The Taking of Pelham One Two Three
– “American Gods”
– “Doctor Who”
– “The Handmaid’s Tale”
– “The Flash”
– “Good Witch”
Closing Music: Kool & The Gang’s “Ladie’s Night“]]>
I‘d heard the title Daughters of the Dust crop up a couple of times not long before the BFI announced its re-release on dual format Blu-Ray and DVD in the UK. Everybody’s favourite source of film lists, Taste of Cinema, included it on their ’10 Totally Awesome 1990s Movies You May Have Missed’ lineup in May, which caught my attention. Plus I’d heard mention of it when Beyonce’s acclaimed Lemonade film/album came out last year. So, although descriptions of the film didn’t make it sound like my typical cup-of-tea, I was eager to give the film a look and what better way than in a shiny new Blu-Ray edition, spruced up by the BFI.
There’s not much of a story to describe as I typically like to do in my second paragraph. Some opening text explains how in South Carolina’s Sea Islands, certain communities of former west-African slaves lived alone, away from the rest of American society and adopted many of their ancestors’ Yoruba traditions. The film is set in 1902 and sees members of the Gullah community on the islands struggle to maintain their cultural heritage and folklore while preparing for a migration to the mainland, even further from their roots.
This struggle takes place with little on screen incidence. A couple of tragedies and scandals have struck the community, but these have happened in the past and are referred to, but never shown. We do however see mystical visions of the future as a child possibly born from her mother’s rape narrates and fleetingly visits the film’s scenes. A couple of former islanders and their friend who come to visit from the mainland also offer some unrest to proceedings and remind the community and the audience how the two worlds differ.
So instead of a plot-driven drama, the film plays out as a poetic rumination on identity, heritage and tradition. For the most part, characters lounge around in the sun and debate the pros and cons of their dying traditions and what it might mean to leave everything behind (including some members of the community). So, I must say, its form doesn’t make for an easy watch. I struggled to get into the film to begin with, even though I kind of knew what to expect from the descriptions I’d read of it. However, I found that it gradually crept under my skin.
The most attention-grabbing aspect of the film is its cinematography by Arthur Jafa. Shot on location on St. Helena Island, South Carolina, the film is sumptuously bathed in golden sunlight. With the characters dressed largely in smart white period costume, yet living in simple shacks on the beach, it all has a beautiful other-worldly quality to its look too.
The film’s unusual poetic style helps create a truly unique look at race issues in America. Whereas most films about life as an African-America tend to be tough and gritty, largely set on the mean streets of a big city, this is a peaceful, quietly thoughtful meditation on what it really means to be an African-American. As quiet as it is, writer/director Julie Dash’s passion is still clearly evident too, but in giving her thoughts and feelings room to breathe she provokes intelligent debate rather than deliver didactic, black and white messages.
Saying that, there are several impassioned monologues in the film. It’s not all that quiet as such. These scenes offered up a slight problem I had with the film though. I found some of the performances to be a little hammy and these grand speeches tended to be when this was evident. This might be partly down to these scenes feeling more theatrical than the rest of the film, but nonetheless, I found myself cringing a little here and there.
It’s an incredibly admirable work overall though. I found it difficult to warm to at first due to its meandering nature and lack of narrative, but the passion and elegant beauty of the film shone through after a while. It helps that it’s a veritable feast for the eyes, but I could also appreciate how brave and forward thinking Dash was being in making such a unique and intelligent study of cultural identity.
Daughters of the Dust is out on 26th June on Dual Format Blu-Ray & DVD in the UK, released by the BFI. I saw the Blu-Ray version and the film looks and sounds great.
The film has a substantial collection of special features. Here’s the list:
– Audio commentary with Julie Dash and Michelle Materre
– An Interview with Julie Dash (2017, 72 mins): The director in conversation with Dr Stephane Dunn
– Q&A with director Julie Dash and actress Cheryl Lynn Bruce (2017, 25 mins): From the 2016 Chicago International Film Festival, moderated by actress Regina Taylor
– An Interview with Arthur Jafa (2017, TBC mins): The cinematographer interviewed by Karen Alexander
– 2016 theatrical trailer
– Illustrated booklet with full film credits and essays by Jennifer DeClue and Gaylene Gould
It’s an extensive collection of material which helps appreciate such an unusual film. I haven’t had time to look through it all yet, but I plan to and will report back once I have.]]>
Arrow Video continue to delve into the Japanese genre movie vaults with Doberman Cop, a film that brings together two stalwarts they’ve previously featured, director Kinji Fukasaku (Battles Without Honour and Humanity, Battle Royale and Cops Vs Thugs, which I reviewed recently) and actor Shin’ichi “Sonny” Chiba (The Street Fighter, Kill Bill and Wolf Guy, which I reviewed recently). It’s not a film that saw much success when it came out and as such it’s never been released on video outside of Japan, so it’s great to see Arrow taking the effort to bring such an obscure, but nevertheless interesting title out over here. The two names I mentioned being behind the film were enough to get me interested, so I was keen to see if it was any good.
Doberman Cop is an action thriller based on a gekiga (a more story driven and adult form of manga) written by Buronson (better known for creating Fist of the North Star). Chiba plays Joji Kano, a cop who has recently moved from an Okinawan village in the country to the bright lights of Tokyo. A true country bumpkin, arriving with pet pig in tow, Kano is a fish out of water but tough enough to handle the mean streets of Tokyo. He falls quickly into trouble as he investigates the murder of a young woman in the nightlife district. Her body has been badly burnt, but the victim appears to be from Kano’s home town, which gives him added impetus to solve the crime. The plot further thickens as Kano believes the body was only made out to look like that of his neighbour and that the gangster Hidenori (Hiroki Matsukata) has something to do with it, along with Miki (Janet Hatta), a singer the gangster is grooming for success.
The fish out of water aspect makes way for a little more goofy comedy than I expected from a Fukasaku film, but I wouldn’t go as far as to call it a full on action comedy. It’s still a cop thriller at heart and there are more than a few nods to Dirty Harry, in particular the .44 Magnum wielded by Chiba. It’s not a particularly original or remarkable action thriller though unfortunately. It’s trashier than most of the Fukasaku films I’ve seen before too – more ridiculous and sleazy and less grounded in reality. The mistaken/hidden identity angle with the Miki character adds a slight spin to the usual gangster versus cop formula, but it’s business as usual for the most part.
However, Chiba and Fukasaku each help make this a solid and enjoyable entry to the genre. Chiba helps deliver the action goods for one. It’s not graceful, but the choreography is fast paced and Chiba helps sell each blow in his inimitable style. There’s a bit of gore added to the fights too, with the aforementioned Magnum causing one bad guy’s head to explode, bringing Dirty Harry’s infamous monologue to vidid life. Fukasaku brings further energy to the film through his kinetic directing style. His handheld camerawork and gritty look is still in play, giving the occasionally silly film a tougher edge than it might otherwise have had.
There’s not a lot more to be said about the film to be honest. I don’t want to sound too down on it, as I enjoyed it quite a lot, but it’s fairly generic and unremarkable when compared to the director’s other work. His style helps move it along though and it’s always enjoyable to see Chiba kicking seven shades of sh*t out of a load of bad guys. So, I’d still recommend it to those with a taste for Japanese genre movies and Chiba fans will certainly get a kick out of it, even if Fukasaku fans might feel a little let down.
Doberman Cop is out on 26th June on dual format Blu-Ray and DVD in the UK, released by Arrow Video. I saw the DVD version and the picture and sound quality was decent.
There are a handful of special features too:
– Beyond the Film: Doberman Cop, a new video appreciation by Fukasaku biographer Sadao Yamane
– New video interview with actor Shinichi “Sonny” Chiba
– New video interview with screenwriter Koji Takada
– Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Chris Malbon
– First pressing only: Illustrated collector’s book featuring new writing on the films by Patrick Macias
As with Wolf Guy, although there aren’t a huge amount of extra features, what’s here is excellent. The Yamane piece is particularly strong, putting the film in context, providing a lot of interesting facts about the production and what was going on in the Japanese film industry at the time. The Takada interview is decent too, providing his thoughts about adapting other people’s work as well as stories about the production process of the film. The Chiba interview is a continuation of that on the Wolf Guy disc, so it was great to hear what else the legendary actor had to say about his career.]]>
The Fisher King is a film I thought I’d seen before, but wasn’t sure. After watching it again for this review I found myself remembering several moments, but I’m still not sure I’d seen it from start to finish. Regardless, I’m glad I definitely got through it all last week as I thought it was great.
The Fisher King centres around Jack (Jeff Bridges), a self-centred and cruel ‘shock-jock’ DJ whose career is on a high as he’s set to take the lead role in a TV sitcom. However, when he gives some insensitive advice to a listener, causing the man to gun down several people in a restaurant, his world comes crashing down and he retreats into a depression. One night, when he’s drunk and feeling particularly low, he decides to commit suicide, but before he attempts to do so, a couple of young thugs attack him. He’s saved by a group of homeless people led by Parry (Robin Williams), a particularly unhinged man who thinks he’s a knight on a quest to recover the Holy Grail, which he believes is kept in a ‘castle’ in New York. Jack tries to get away from Parry as quickly as he can at first, but learns that Parry’s wife was shot and killed in front of his eyes, during the massacre caused by Jack’s poor on-air advice. This shocking incident is what caused Parry’s current mental state, so Jack feels responsible and wants to help the man somehow. Initially he tries to solve the problem with money, but Parry doesn’t care about that and it doesn’t make Jack feel any better about the situation either, so he sets about trying to make a better life for Parry in other ways, which in turn he hopes will improve his own mental stability. The primary goal is to set Parry up with the woman he’s fallen in love with from afar, the mousey, socially awkward and clumsy Lydia (Amanda Plummer).
Terry Gilliam is a director who has famously had problems getting films made (or at least released) the way he wants them, or in some cases even made at all. He’d had particularly bad luck with the two films he made prior to The Fisher King, Brazil and The Adventures of Baron Munchausen. These were both quite ambitious projects, involving a lot of special effects and elaborate production design, which might explain why The Fisher King was more grounded in reality on a relatively more intimate scale. It seems to have been a relatively smooth production and post-production process for Gilliam too. That’s not to say the film plays against the director’s usual style though. Gilliam visualises Parry’s Arthurian fantasies, most notably the Red Knight, his nemesis. This frightening creation, always on horseback, covered in red flowing material and breathing fire, represents Parry’s inner demons and is used highly effectively, particularly in a key scene towards the end which also features some shocking flashbacks of the restaurant massacre where Parry’s wife was killed.
Moments like this help prevent the film from getting overly sentimental, as its depictions of the homeless and mental illness threaten to seem idealistic or glib at times. I did find the finale stepped a little too far into sentimentality though, tying a neat and simplistic bow to the package, which elsewhere had been fairly thought-provoking and not shied from the darker aspects. As a feel-good ending it works rather well, but it felt slightly tacked on after what had happened before.
Coming from Gilliam, the film is visually impressive as expected. On top of the clearly fantastical sequences I mentioned earlier, he and his crew use some wonderful production design, camerawork and lighting in some well-selected locations, to provide a uniquely stylish perspective on New York. Settings such as the homeless community they visit are given an expressionistic slant, with bold shadows and interesting uses of light and framing to give a dream or nightmare like quality to the imagery.
Performances are top notch too. Bridges is excellent as always, but it’s Williams who gets to truly show his range here. He’d done serious roles prior to this, but here he gets to effectively hit the extremes of his skills, showing his usual wild energy in his gallant knight persona, then becoming surprisingly lucid, calm and intelligent in a few quiet scenes, and unleashing some incredibly powerful and raw emotions in his character’s darkest moments. These scenes are particularly tough to watch now, when you realise the mental problems Williams was battling in reality. He must have been channeling some of his own demons to portray them so vividly.
It’s Mercedes Ruehl, who plays Jack’s long suffering girlfriend, who took home the film’s only Oscar though. She certainly does a great job, crafting a strong and memorable character who helps Jack maintain his own sanity more than he realises. The film’s other key female role is that of Lydia and Amanda Plummer is eye-opening here too. Occasionally she pushes things a bit far towards farce perhaps, as she knocks things over or eats like a slob. Her scenes with Williams are very touching though and help that aspect of the film work like a charm when they could have been cloying in the wrong hands.
Overall, it’s an unusual and endearing drama about mental illness and the need for selfless support. It stumbles a little in its final act, but largely it’s a fascinating blend of tough and touching and social commentary and fantasy. With great central performances and Gilliam’s keen eye for bold visuals, it’s a great, one of a kind experience that can confidently stand beside some of the director’s best work.
The Fisher King is out on 19th June on Blu-Ray in the UK, released by The Criterion Collection. The picture and sound quality is very good. I was watching on a projector and the were some minor issues with digital grain here and there, but it might be a projector problem as I’ve seen it quite often with other films.
You get plenty of special features too. Here’s the full list:
– Audio commentary featuring Gilliam
– New interviews with Gilliam, producer Lynda Obst, screenwriter Richard La Gravenese, and actors Jeff Bridges, Amanda Plummer, and Mercedes Ruehl
– New interviews with artists Keith Greco and Vincent Jefferds on the creation of the film’s Red Knight
– Interview from 2006 with actor Robin Williams
– New video essay featuring Bridges’s on-set photographs
– Deleted scenes, with optional commentary by Gilliam
– Costume tests
– PLUS: An essay by critic Bilge Ebiri
It’s a hefty amount of material, with the bulk of the new interviews forming an impressive one-hour documentary on the making of the film. This, added to the commentary, the rest of the interviews and other extras, make for a mighty fine package, even by Criterion’s lofty standards. And it’s not just about volume, the features here are genuinely interesting and intelligently presented. There aren’t any throwaway press kit fluff pieces, so it’s all worth watching, even if it’ll take you another couple of evenings to get through.]]>
Vox makes a nice 5 minute inquiry on why we watch and enjoy bad movies so much. Not the intentionally bad animal-weather hybrids (aka Sharknado), but rather the earnestly awful movies like The Room. It also introduces (to me anyway) the notion of ParaCinema, and the far more familiar notion of Camp, and that there is a notion of good ‘bad’ taste.
Stay for the credit stinger, because Bissell is absolutely correct in the best way to watch The Room for the first time, albeit that probably doesn’t apply to many of the readers in these parts, as The Room has been in the popular culture for the better part of a decade at this point in cinephile circles.]]>
To rave reviews (and this trailer is not afraid to splash a lot of them on screen) at Cannes, Bong Joon-Ho’s Okja is currently enjoying a very successful release in South Korea. It will play Netflix world-wide on June 28th. The first teaser, along with Tilda Swinton’s viral-style teaser, was to guarantee mandatory viewing spot for this year. To those who really want to get a look at the ‘super-pig’ at the heart (emphasize on heart) of the story, this trailer offers that in spades. It also features a curiously sweet cover of Nine Inch Nails “Something I Can Never Have,” which I like a lot more than the usual, ‘slow choir cover’ of an angsty pop song. The trailer also features a lot more Paul Dano, but mainly the focus remains on An Seo Hyun and her creature. Fun fact, to those who watch all the credits here, British Author, Jon Ronson (“So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed”) who writes about empathy in an sharp and accessible way, is also the co-writer of the screenplay.]]>
It is a slow week for posters, large campaigns for Cars 3, Baby Driver, and The Nut Job 2 do the usual thing that character posters do. So I offer you, with out much elaboration, this Banksy street art styled anti-war propaganda poster for the new Planet of the Apes film. It is not a character poster, as there are no others released in this fashion, but it still highlights a key character in the film at the exclusion of all else. I hope to possibly see it framed in a multiplex nearby, but I have my doubts it will exist outside the internet.
It cannot be any further in design than the one below, which also has the vague notion of a character poster. This design eschews the monochrome minimalism, and goes all-in on the use of the colour pink – not a hue typically associated with this franchise, or war in general. It’s a solid piece of ‘flower child’ anti war propaganda coming from a completely different angle, and the poster itself is designed in what I call, the “Korean School” of unadorned single, well framed, photography. The pair of these posters is a really solid example that you do not need a perfectly integrated style across elements or characters for your film, just put out catchy designs, that defy expectations.
“Change is coming.” is the mantra of this second, ominous trailer for Kathryn Bigelow’s retelling of the 1967 Algiers Motel massacre during Detroit’s 12th Street Riot’s. There is also a period snapshot of the city, including a rather tense collection of police coercion, both in the station house, and in the field. This film looks like a technical and emotional tour-de-force, and remains one of my most anticipated films for 2017.]]>
Behold! The sound of scraping the bottom of the barrel. In this, the year of our lord, Two Thousand and Seventeen, Ellen Page will star in a remake of inessential goofball 1990 young actor showcase, Flatliners. Directed by Niels Arden Oplev (Dead Man Down), and catering to an audience of absolutely no-one, the trailer primal-screams, “Maybe you should be watching Final Destination 3.” Words cannot describe how un-interesting this idea is at this point in time. People should be sacked, which is the only reason why I am posting the trailer (above) in the first place. Ellen. Ellen. Ellen. Did you need a new swimming pool that much?]]>
Matt Gamble makes a most triumphant return to The Cinecast this week as we tackle the latest in indie horror “spreading” through the multi-plexes. Get your face mask on for It Comes at Night. From the infected forests of North America to the cold, gray bureaucracy of the U.K., Andrew and Kurt go to the depths with last year’s Palme d’Or winner, I, Daniel Blake. Each host this week has three films for their Watch List which rounds out a pretty nice show. We have documentaries, Disney remakes, previous Palme d’Or winners, Netflix original, boxing flicks, romantic comedies, Fosse Fosse Fosse and cannibalism.
As always, please join the conversation by leaving your own thoughts in the comment section below and again, thanks for listening!
We’re now available on Google Play!
Opening: :00 – 11:44
It Comes at Night (SPOILERS!): 11:46 – 50:47
I, Daniel Blake (SPOILERS!): 50:50 – 1:35:54
Watch List: 1:35:56 – 2:50:41
Outro/Next Week: 2:50:42 – 2:58:03
Closing Music: 2:57:30 – 2:58:33
It Comes at Night
I, Daniel Blake
– Beauty and the Beast
– Pet (SPOILERS!)
– The Break Up
– Pulp Fiction
– The Unknown Known / Tabloid
– Sweet Charity
– Shimmer Lake
High and Low Brow returns!
Matt on The Director’s Club (Richard Franklin)
The 1961 western One-Eyed Jacks is a curiosity for numerous reasons. Most notably perhaps is the fact it was the one and only time the great Marlon Brando worked behind the camera as director. This wasn’t always set to be the case though. The production began life as a script written by Sam Peckinpah, based on the 1956 Charles Neider novel, The Authentic Death of Hendry Jones (which Peckinpah would later turn into his own film, Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid). Brando’s production company, Pennebaker Productions, got hold of it and Brando wanted the then relatively young Stanley Kubrick to direct it. Kubrick agreed, but insisted on a new script by Calder Willingham. The three of them worked on it at Brando’s home, but various clashes caused Willingham to leave the project (to be replaced by Guy Trosper), followed by Kubrick. With filming already set for a month’s time, Brando stepped in and Paramount agreed. Some believe this was always Brando’s plan, but by all accounts the job was too much for him as the film spiralled rapidly over budget (it reportedly ended up costing $6 million dollars, from an original budget of $1.8 million) and he lost interest during post-production, leaving the studio to edit his 4 hour 42 minute cut down to a more manageable length.
As with a lot of troubled, lengthy and expensive productions, the film was released to mixed reviews and disappointing box office returns. In more recent years though, some critics have called for a reappraisal of the film and last year a new 4K digital restoration was completed by Universal Pictures in partnership with The Film Foundation, in consultation with filmmakers Martin Scorsese and Steven Spielberg. It’s this polished version that now reaches our homes with Arrow Academy’s new dual format release. Being a western fan, I donned my cowboy hat and took this curious pony for a ride.
One-Eyed Jacks opens with Rio (Brando), Dad Longworth (Karl Malden) and their accomplices robbing a bank in Mexico. Whilst stuck in a hilltop siege with the Mexican law, Rio sends Dad off to get new horses to aid their escape. He instead chooses to run off with the loot, leaving Rio to get caught and rot in a Mexican jail. He escapes 5 years later and seems hell bent on exacting revenge for what happened. Rio finds his chance when he happens upon Bob Amory (Ben Johnson), who is planning a bank job in Monterey, California, where Dad is currently sheriff. Rio joins Bob’s gang and soon comes face to face with Dad, but rather than shoot him down straight away, he plots a slower route of cruel vengeance. Part of this involves or is possibly waylaid by Rio forming a relationship with Dad’s step-daughter Louisa (Pina Pellicer). Further complications ensue as the audience wonders just what Rio plans to do to his former partner in crime.
On top of it being a curiosity due to Brando’s involvement as director, the film is also odd due to it bridging the gap (as Scorsese puts it in an introduction to the film) between old Hollywood and new. Paramount’s last film to be released in VistaVision, it has the expensive, colourful sheen of a classic Hollywood western, but with a tough edge showing through at times and Brando encouraging improvisation amongst the actors, it shows signs of what was to come later in the decade with the likes of Bonnie and Clyde and Easy Rider. This unusual combination, on top of an odd mix of western tropes with soapy melodrama, lead many to call the film a bit of a mess, but I felt it made for a unique and fascinating watch.
Instantly striking is the cinematography. DOP Charles Lang rightfully snagged an Oscar for his work on the film. He makes stunning use of landscapes, colour and framing. The former is likely aided by Brando’s reportedly lengthy delays in production whilst he waited for the best circumstances to shoot, such as the “right” waves off the Monterey coast. His waiting for these certainly paid off, even if it set the shoot back days, as the handful of shots with the beach in the background are truly magnificent.
The performances are great too, with Brando and Malden (who’d already appeared together in A Streetcar Named Desire and On the Waterfront) typically strong, go-to cowboys Slim Pickens and Johnson at their slimy best and newcomer Pellicer making the most of her love interest role. Sadly it was her first and last Hollywood performance as she committed suicide only four years later.
It’s rather slow paced for a western, with plenty of intense brooding on Brando’s part, but this gives the audience time to mull over the psychological mind games and dilemmas in play. The plot isn’t all that original maybe, but when performed with such a restrained intensity and played out in a slow burn, it allows for a greater impact than such straightforward material might otherwise enjoy.
That said, the film does feel a little overlong and it’s not always entirely successful in gelling its melodramatic love story with its tough revenge western shell. I enjoyed it nonetheless. It’s finely crafted, if a little bloated, and I felt there was more to it than mere curiosity value as some might have you believe. I’d recommend you check it out for yourself and now it’s been given the release it deserves after years of shoddy reissues due to it falling into the public domain, it’s the perfect time to do so.
One-Eyed Jacks is out on 12th June on dual format Blu-Ray and DVD in the UK, released by Arrow Academy. I saw the DVD version and the picture and sound quality was excellent.
There are plenty of special features included. Here’s the list:
– Brand new audio commentary by Stephen Prince, author of Savage Cinema: Sam Peckinpah and the Rise of Ultraviolent Movies, recorded exclusively for this release
– Introduction by Martin Scorsese
– Marlon Brando: The Wild One, Paul Joyce’s 1996 documentary on the actor, featuring interviews with Dennis Hopper, Shelley Winters, Martin Sheen and Anthony Hopkins
– Additional, previously unseen interview material from Marlon Brando: The Wild One with Francis Ford Coppola and Arthur Penn
– Theatrical trailer
– Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Jacob Phillips
– FIRST PRESSING ONLY: Illustrated collector’s booklet containing new writing on the film by Jason Wood and Filippo Ulivieri, Karl Malden on Marlon Brando, Paul Joyce on Marlon Brando: The Wild One and an excerpt from Stefan Kanfer s Somebody: The Reckless Life and Remarkable Career of Marlon Brando.
The commentary is rich and detailed, providing a wonderful source of information about the film and its cast and crew. The Brando documentary is great too, giving a good overview of his work and his legendary status in film history.
After a brief bout with Leukemia, the real Batman, Adam West has left this world to fight crime on another plane. “Our dad always saw himself as The Bright Knight and aspired to make a positive impact on his fans’ lives. He was and always will be our hero,” his family said in a statement. Always good-natured and playful at heart, West had a way with his characters and his fans.
Probably most notable as the titular star of the 60s television series Batman, a humorous take on the caped, crime fighter genre; which of course spawned a film version of the same name later that year – which I might argue is still the best feature-length Batman movie to date. Apparently struggling for steady work after that show was cancelled, he did find some amount of recognition and fame as the eccentric and dim-witted (but lovable) mayor, Adam West, in Seth MacFarlane’s “Family Guy.” He also is in a handful of various television episodes and recognizable voice work here and there.
Adam West was 88 years young and he will be missed. The Hollywood Reporter has more…]]>
Although never a super-star, actress Glenne Headly had a wonderful one-two punch in the 1980s, with the gloriously funny remake Dirty Rotten Scoundrels and offbeat technicolor comic-strip blockbuster Dick Tracy. Headly also had a steady television career with regular roles on ER and MONK. The actress was always doing one or two films on top of one or two TV shows, being a serial guest star on shows as diverse as the X-Files, Parks & Recreation and one of the several CSI spin-offs. She started out her career in Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theatre Company, where she met her first husband, John Malkovich. The marriage ended in divorce after only a few years, after Malkovich started cheating on her with Michelle Pfeiffer on the set of Dangerous Liaisons. Like Nicole Kidman, about the same time she stepped away from a high-profile husband, opportunity for edgier material in more sizable roles, seemed to present itself. Like most great character actors, she was an onscreen chameleon, going from funny to sexy to vulnerable to hyper-intelligent to invisible across projects, and her works speaks for itself in its own quiet way, because she was never a Hollywood celebrity.]]>
Errol Morris’s latest film portrays he friend and neighbor, portrait photographer Elsa Dorfman, and her body of work which is mainly ultra-large format Polaroid portraits, both of families and of some rather famous folks too. The poster design is offbeat and unusual and a little unassuming but also kind of quietly rebellious (as is Ms. Dorfman herself.) Take the handwriting on the poster, yes, people sharpie labels on their Polaroids all the time, so there is that, but you rarely see this kind of thing on a bit of promotional material. Also, the inky roll-lines on the sides of the poster, also a part of the large format roller-driven process, but still rather striking on the edges of a movie-poster. Then there is Ms. Dorfman herself, hardly imbued with movie-star looks, yet easily able to command the frame, is her pose a display or a query or an example of her work, this is a perfect incitement into what is Morris’ most gentle and casual (albeit not lacking in rigour in the slightest!)]]>
Diabolique seems an odd film for Criterion to choose to release in the UK as part of their collection of exquisite Blu-Ray re-releases of classic films. That’s not to say Diabolique doesn’t deserve to be part of the Criterion Collection. It’s a highly respected film from an equally respected director. However, another boutique Blu-Ray label, Arrow Academy, turned their hand to it only three years ago (albeit under the film’s alternative title, Les Diaboliques). I haven’t actually watched that release, so can’t compare, but knowing Arrow’s reputation, it’s probably equally as well remastered and seems to have a couple of equally as decent special features included. Nevertheless, it’s a film worthy of attention and I’d not seen it for a few years, so I didn’t hesitate to request a copy to review for you all here.
In Diabolique, Christina (Véra Clouzot) and Nicole (Simone Signoret) are an unlikely pair who plot to kill Christina’s husband, a cruel headmaster named Michel (Paul Meurisse). They’re an odd couple because Nicole was Michel’s mistress and Christina is perfectly aware of this. The twisted Michel makes no secret of it and this, on top of his constant belittling and humiliation of Christina, drive the women to the drastic measure of committing murder. Their plan, driven largely by the cold and calculated Nicole, seems to go relatively smoothly until Michel’s body goes missing. As Christina’s fear of being caught builds on top of her mounting guilt, her sanity and already weak heart are tested to their limits.
* VAGUE SPOILERS IN THIS PARAGRAPH * It’s a hugely influential film for numerous reasons. Murder plots had been portrayed on the big screen before, but this is one of the earliest examples of a film being turned on its head by a final twist. In fact, my decision to mark this paragraph as containing ‘spoilers’ is inspired by the fact that the film contains one of the earliest examples of an anti-spoiler message at the end, asking the audience not to reveal the twist to anyone who hadn’t seen the film. It’s a device Alfred Hitchcock borrowed for Psycho a few years later. In fact, Hitchcock borrowed a lot from Diabolique when making his classic proto-slasher. Both films make repeated use of water and bathrooms for pivotal scenes for instance. Both feature twists too, particularly those involving their protagonists. I won’t knock Psycho as it’s one of my favourite films, but it’s clear Hitchcock saw Diabolique and took notes. It’s thought that the British director was jealous or at least concerned about Clouzot’s growing reputation as the new master of suspense after Wages of Fear and Diabolique received much acclaim and financial success around the world. * END OF SPOILERS *
Often films deemed ‘influential’ are merely interesting historical documents after a couple of decades of homages, copycats and straight up remakes (Diabolique was remade 3 times) have overused their tropes. However, Diabolique remains a gripping and highly effective thriller. The tension is slowly ratcheted up from the start to the still shocking finale. Speaking of which, the climax to this film is truly one of horror cinema’s creepiest scenes. I can’t say too much without spoiling the film, but it’s an image that’s guaranteed to haunt you for a long time after watching. The earlier murder and subsequent shots of the body are still pretty grim too. The horrific act of what the women have done is played out largely in real time and isn’t glossed over, even if Michel is made out to be a true monster who might deserve to die. This helps create a moral complexity to the film that elevates it above a mere shock thriller. The ever-increasing guilt felt by Christina and its embodiment through images of the murky school swimming pool reminded me of Edgar Allan Poe’s ‘The Tell-Tale Heart’ too.
The film is also impressive on a technical level, with some expertly staged sequences. In particular I loved the scene where Christina is supposed to poison her husband and the camera keeps the poisoned bottle near-constantly in shot. It’s always just out of focus or off centre enough to not feel blunt, but ever there nonetheless. As the couple argue, the audience is regularly reminded of what’s lying beneath the surface of their conversation – in her mind, Christina is swinging from calling off the murder to nearly pouring the drink down his throat.
The story is told quite economically too, with little added fluff to get in the way of the central arc. Clouzot doesn’t rush through it all though. He knows to hold back and let the scenes become almost unbearably tense as they slowly unfold.
It’s an expertly crafted tale of the evil in man (and woman) and the true cost of guilt. Gripping and tense from start to finish, it’s truly one of the finest thrillers ever made, so deserves two fine Blu-Ray releases.
Diabolique is out now on Blu-Ray in the UK, released by The Criterion Collection. The picture and sound quality is very good. The picture is often a bit soft, but I imagine this is down to the source material. The dynamic range is high though, allowing for rich textures. Audio is solid throughout too.
You get a fair amount of special features. Here’s the list:
– Selected-scene audio commentary by French film scholar Kelley Conway
– New video introduction by Serge Bromberg, do-director of Henri Georges Clouzot’s ‘Inferno’
– New video interview with novelist and film critic Kim Newman
– Original theatrical trailer
– PLUS: An essay by film critic Terrence Rafferty
It’s not a particularly lengthy collection of material, but everything here is of a high standard and helps enrich the viewing experience. In particular, the featurettes help you appreciate just how influential and ahead of its time the film was.]]>
As always, please join the conversation by leaving your own thoughts in the comment section below and again, thanks for listening!
We’re now available on Google Play!
Opening: 0:00 – 4:57
Wonder Woman (SPOILERS!): 5:00 – 37:07
Watch List: 37:09 – 1:06:26
Outro/Next Week: 1:06:28 – 1:16:02
Closing Music: 1:13:05 – 1:17:58
Wonder Woman (SPOILERS!)
– “Dead Mall Series” (on YouTube)
– City Slickers
– Knock Knock
Dead Malls story
Get Your Cast to Mars (bonus episode)
Get Your Cast To Mars was originally a three part (+ bonus episode) micro-podcast focusing on the planet Mars in the movies. Matthew Brown and Kurt Halfyard considered the red planet as an image, an idea, and a somewhat rare place visited in the cinema (and Television) of the past 100 years.
Like humanity itself, we just can’t leave well enough alone! Welcome to our ultra-casual (no introductions, we just drop you right in the middle of the experience) and long promised bonus episode to Season 2! While the second season focused on National Geographic’s MARS docudrama-mini and all that was fine and nice, we couldn’t help but check in in Trump-era 2017 to talk about Mars as an evolving infection. As per Season 1’s bonus episode the lion-share is on Sir Ridley Scott’s evolving Alien franchise. To be on topic, somewhat, there is also some discussion about Daniel Espinosa’s LIFE.
Consider this bonus episode the capstone to our two-season-and-done micro-podcast. We hope you enjoy this extra edition as much as we did the strong black coffee and savoury biscuits, while recording at Toronto’s Sumach Espresso.
Viewing Syllabus: Life (2017) and Alien: Covenant (2017).
As always, please join in the conversation by leaving your own thoughts in the comment section and again, thanks for listening!
The Complete First Season of Matt and Kurt getting their Cast To Mars:
The Second Season:
Bonus Episode – Daniel Espinosa’s Life & Ridley Scott’s Covenant
For decades it was Hong Kong that dominated the martial arts movie scene. From the genre’s beginnings, to the vast catalogue of the Shaw Brothers studio, to the success of Golden Harvest in the 80’s and 90’s, Hong Kong led the way in the genre and few other areas/countries managed to capture their success or level of quality. Hollywood had long tried, and although there are some great American action films, their depiction of martial arts has rarely felt as convincing or spectacular. As the new millennium moved on though, a boom in martial arts cinema caused by the success of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and The Matrix eventually led to Hong Kong’s action output growing tired. Too many releases tried to copy the formula of those hugely successful titles, but there was rarely the talent or money behind them to achieve their level of quality. As such, the Hong Kong martial arts scene has dried up somewhat, at least in terms of finding critical or commercial success overseas, bar one or two exceptions (the Ip Man films did quite well and have a lot of fans).
With Hong Kong’s martial arts crown slipping, one country has made a few great steps forward to snatch it from them, or rather leap through the air, shatter their skull and wrench the crown from their twitching, dying body. That country is Indonesia. They’ve been making action movies for a long time, but nothing all that notable until a Welsh director named Gareth Evans made his sophomore film there, Merantau (a.k.a. Merantau Warrior) alongside native Indonesian actor/action choreographer Iko Uwais. That film wasn’t a huge success, but it turned a few heads amongst action fans and paved the way for Evans and Uwais’ follow up, The Raid. That martial arts masterpiece blew the doors open with its brutal, intense action sequences and taut, visceral direction. Evans and Uwais returned three years later with The Raid 2, which many felt managed to improve on the first, by upping the scale and adding a more elaborate plot. Personally I slightly prefer the first film, but The Raid 2 is still undoubtedly one of the finest action films of the last twenty years, if not ever.
Eager to show he’s equally as important to that illustrious pair of films than Evans after his frustratingly wasted cameo in The Force Awakens, Uwais joins the ‘Mo Brothers’ (Kimo Stamboel and Timo Tjahjanto) for Headshot. Like in the Raid films, Uwais acts and choreographs the action with his Uwais Team and certainly proves his worth, as Headshot is one hell of a badass martial arts movie.
The film begins with two seemingly disparate storylines. One sees psychotic crime lord Lee (Sunny Pang) escape from prison in a blood soaked opening sequence and another finds a near-dead man (Uwais) wash up on a beach. As Lee gets on with business, the mysterious man is in a coma in hospital, looked after by the attractive young doctor, Ailin (Chelsea Islan). He soon comes to, but has amnesia, so Ailin, who names him Ishmael, helps him discover his true identity. As they do, and as Lee is clearly troubled when he hears about someone being found alive on the beach, we learn that the two were closer than you’d expect and perhaps Ishmael isn’t the nice young man Ailin thinks he is. He certainly seems to know how to handle himself when Lee sends his team of cold-hearted, tough as nails goons to get him.
It’s a fairly straightforward plot with several cliches along the way (amnesia is hardly an original concept and we get the typical kidnapped girlfriend & kid finale), but having the hero possibly be a former villain is a nice touch and allows for some fights with more emotional complexity than usual.
I didn’t put this on to mull over the emotions of its characters though. I came for the action and on that front I was more than satisfied. Like in the Raid films, the fight scenes are full impact, incredibly intense and wincingly gory. There are plenty of them too, with very little down time in between set pieces. It can get pretty grisly, which might put off some viewers, but the gore helped add a gritty power to the action in my eyes.
Although the direction doesn’t quite have Evans’ flair, the Mo Brothers craft a film that’s stylish without distracting from the action and they handle the set pieces with a tremendous amount of energy. The camera is a little unnecessarily shaky at times, but takes are largely long and you can always follow what’s happening on screen.
All in all it’s another highly kinetic, brutal and thrilling action spectacular from Indonesia that can confidently hold its own against the Raid films. Like them, the violence might be a bit too unpleasant for all tastes, but if you’ve got the stomach for it, you’re in for a real treat. Here’s to seeing what else Uwais and the Indonesian action movie scene have in store for us.
Headshot is out on 5th June on Blu-Ray and DVD in the UK, released by Arrow Films. I saw the Blu-Ray version and the picture and sound quality was excellent. There are no notable special features included unfortunately.]]>
Wonder Woman is here, and we dive deep into the suddenly-refreshing waters of the DCEU – with additional talk of Batman, the Justice League, Aquaman, and the cult of narrative around projects of this scale. Plus, Price’s Disney boycott finally worked, and with Sense8 on its way out, peak TV may have finally peaked.]]>
Having already displayed the fine posters for Steven Soderbergh’s Logan Lucky and Kenneth Branagh’s Murder On The Orient Express above the their trailers earlier this week, I was thinking it might be tricky to find something this week for this column. But then along comes the French poster for Edgar Wrights Baby Driver, which has a nice innovation for solving both the ‘floating heads’ and the ‘all cast members displayed on the poster’ dilemmas of modern poster design. And the solution is delightfully simple. Have the leads, Ansel Elgort and Lily James be in their car while rolling down the window. Reflect the rest of the cast in the glass of the window. I am quite surprised that nobody has done this up to now, or at least I’ve not seen it in another poster. If you know of one, let me know.
The yellow typesetting against the metallic red of the car (as well as the stripe along the top with a pull quote) is all business, but the film’s title itself is really playful, exactly the kind of tone and balance Wright manages to strike with each picture.]]>